Karen Motley

The Diminishing Effects of Mass Incarceration

I am a native of Chicago, born and raised on the far South side of the city.  My professional background is in the business and corporate industry of training, management, and administration supported by an MBA.  I changed career paths and went into the social services and education, supported by a Masters in Psychology. I am currently a doctorate student working on a degree in Community Psychology, and “Reentry Programs”.

The incarceration of a family member has a negative impact on the family nucleus.  Many times, the structure has a breakdown.  Additionally, like a death in the family, the incarcerated family member is rarely discussed with outsiders.  There’s a societal stigma attached to incarceration both in society and within the family.  Titles are associated with the incarcerated even after release, convicts, ex-offenders, re-entry citizens. When other parents are sharing the milestones of their children’s’ accomplishments, you’re silent, you have nothing positive to add to the conversation, sure, you cheer on other parent’s children’s accomplishments, you know, this can happen to anyone’s child and you’re glad it didn’t happen to theirs especially since society is so unforgiving.  It’s hard to reestablish yourself with basic needs such as and not limited to housing, food, transportation, identity, and employment.

My son was a productive part of society, he was an honor student and attended the best Military schools, trained as an Army Ranger and entered the military after high school.  He had productive, highly educated parents, and he was from a loving home.  My family had an ideal life we lived in the suburbs, had a beautiful home, and great careers, and like most parents, we invested in our child’s future.

In one night, our lives changed.  My son was incarcerated facing a murder charge of 65 years serving 85 percent of the sentence. This was hard on our family, we divorced, I lost my job, and we sold our dream home.   After five years, it was determined the system could not prove my son had committed murder and the charges were reduced, however the damage was done.  Over the next ten years our lives further changed.  At a time in my life that I should be slowing down and enjoying the fruits of my labor, I was also reestablishing my life.   I became the guardian of my son’s three-year-old daughter. I felt my life was going backwards in time.  I was supporting my son from prison, raising my grand-daughter, while waiting for his release, which began another journey after seven years.

I was put through many hurdles by the penal system.  I had to make sure my home fit reentry citizen standards and visits from parole officers.  I now had an adult child in my home and all that came with that (I’ve been told that the age someone is when they enter the penal system is the age they are mentally when they exit the system). After my son’s release, I felt I was dealing with a rebellious teenager. I watched him struggle to assimilate himself to society with low paying menial jobs when he could find employment. He seemed to come home with a host of issues that weren’t being dealt with while he was on parole. There seemed to be a lot of gaps in the rehabilitation process. I am happy to say after ten years of recidivism, in and out of the penal system, my son is doing well.  He has completed his parole and is a productive reentry citizen. He is a successful entrepreneur and has a home in the suburbs with his family.  It is through this journey that led me to research reentry programs.